The Inconvenient Truth about Christmas holidays

First and foremost, dear readers, we all wish you the very best in 2019. May it be a happy and sustainable year for all of you! The Christmas holiday season is by far the most celebrated time of the year. We spend a lot of money on gifts, eat good food and enjoy the much needed “framily time”. But during all these festivities, we should wonder what impact this holiday season has on the environment. How sustainable and eco friendly is the most wonderful time of the year really?

Overeating on Christmas or New Year’s Eve sounds familiar to many of you, isn’t it? It looks like we eat about 80% (!) more food during the Christmas season than during the rest of the year. Unfortunately this also means a lot more waste and pollution. The University of Manchester found out that the carbon footprint of our Christmas dinners are equivalent at a single car travelling 6.000 times around the world.

And what about the Christmas trees? Everybody knows the everlasting discussions about buying a fake or a real Christmas tree. However, this decision has a major impact on the environment. Where artificial trees are shipped thousands of miles to get to your home, they are also made of plastics and are non-biodegradable. On the other hand, real Christmas trees are biodegradable and they help protect and stabilize soil. These real ones also need to be transported, but at a much shorter distances.

In Belgium, we collectively burn our Christmas trees at the end of the holidays. During these ‘kerstboomverbrandingen’, we can enjoy ourselves by watching the enormous fire, drinking a couple of jenevers and eating some hamburgers. It sounds like a cosy and fun time, but is it actually eco friendly and sustainable to burn these trees down? During this combustion a lot of damaging substances are released into the atmosphere, such as particulates, dioxins and PAHs. If the trees are still decorated, Flanders Environment Agency also measured a profound amount of toxic substances in the atmosphere. That’s why more and more municipalities prohibit it and choose for a sustainable alternative, such as collecting or shredding the Christmas trees, while organizing Christmas events without the burning of trees.

And of course, the Christmas holiday season also includes a lot of gifts. But what about the packaging of every purchase? Each year we collectively use at least 365.000 km of wrapping paper, which can be used to stretch 9 times (!) around the world. Besides the packaging of our Christmas gifts, this holiday season is also known for overconsumption: we buy too much and foremost, we buy stuff that we don’t need. The Circularity Gap Report of 2018 indicated that 67 percent of all CO2 emissions can be related to inefficient use of materials, for example driving to shops to buy materials we don’t really need. As a consequence, the amount of waste and the overconsumption of non-sustainable materials (quantity above quality) are increasing every year.

Overall, this certainly does not mean that we shouldn’t enjoy the Christmas holiday season or that we should feel guilty about overeating or wrapping presents. Because, hey!,  it still is the most wonderful time of the year. Just keep in mind that reducing waste is an important factor to safe the planet (think before you buy!) and by making a few small adjustments, much can be remedied. Have you for example ever considered that giving and receiving gifts should not equal purchasing novelties? You could for example reuse, share or borrow things you barely of even never use. You could also make something yourself or create an ‘experience’ present instead of tangible gifts. With just a little bit of creativity, you are able to change the world!

By Anouk Verniers and Rin Verstraeten (


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